Baseball – Nose to Nose

Nose-to-Nose

Fans love seeing the nose-to-nose arguments in an MLB game, such as what is going on with MLB umpire Andy Fletcher in the photo.

But that’s actually not how umpires at the college and high school levels should act. MLB umpires have a unique situation of being the same umpires who deal with the same managers and players for more than six months every year. That creates a long history and different dynamic than umpires in lower levels.

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for handling a coach-umpire or umpire-player discussion.

• Keep distance (three feet or more) between you and the player or coach. If he wants to get closer than that, simply take a step back. It will make him look like the aggressor.

• Do not adopt a confrontational stance, such as putting your hands on your hips or folding them across the chest. The best thing to do is put them behind you (but not in your back pockets)

• When possible, stand at a right angle. That forces the tone away from the nose-to-nose type discussion into more of a conversation.

• Nod your head to non-verbally acknowledge what is being said.

• Let the coach/player finish speaking before you speak. Use the time when he is starting to repeat himself or vent as your time to recall the rule or play in question and formulate your answer.

• Don’t use profanity. No supervisor or state office personnel can back you up when you swear. And without a doubt, the discussion will focus on your profanity and away from the play or ruling in question.

• Don’t try to get in the last word. It’s not a contest. Unless he delivers a personal remark that merits a warning or ejection, let him walk off.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – The Ripple Effect

Officiating has undergone a number of significant changes in the last several years. Few have happened overnight, however. Instead, it’s been a steady evolution in our industry.

The-Ripple-Effect

By Rick Woelfel

Not so long ago the officiating universe consisted of an assortment of individual planets, many without clearly defined orbits.

When Referee published its first issue in January 1976, every sport had its protocol, each local association, conference or region of the country its own way of doing things.

Suffice to say the landscape looks quite different today. The officiating industry has become an interconnected network that spans the globe.

The editors at Referee took a look at the new officiating landscape and collectively identified many areas and issues that have grown or evolved through the years. They then pared the list to the most significant of those changes, those that have been made in the quest to handle the business of the ever-changing world of sports.

1. Local Association Training

Time was when a new official would be given a rulebook and a whistle, maybe pass an exam, and then as likely as not be left to go it alone. That mind-set has changed in many locales.

Today’s training methods have become increasingly sophisticated as clinicians and association leaders strive to provide newcomers with a solid knowledge base before sending them onto the field or court.

John Lozano is the instructional chair for the California Basketball Officials Association (CBOA), a position he’s held for the past eight years.

Today some 3,700 officials are on the membership rolls. The majority are in Southern California although there are chapters throughout the state and now two affiliate member chapters in Wisconsin.

Since the 1970s, the group has conducted an extensive training regimen for new officials that includes eight weeks of mandatory meetings and instruction. The instructional curriculum was first put together by Dr. Bill White, a career educator who officiated in the old Pac-8 conference.

“He collected information and formalized a training program,” Lozano says. “He was constantly adding more content to the training material.

“Initially it was a bunch of handouts. Then he was able to put things in a binder and just add more articles. He would either write them himself or gather the information through his interaction with collegiate organizations and other writers.”

Today, the CBOA has dramatically changed its methods of instruction, incorporating video and technology. The group is also reaching out and offering its training program to associations throughout the country. Two groups in Wisconsin — the Wisconsin Basketball Officials Association and the Southern Wisconsin Officials Association — are now affiliate members of the CBOA.

Even though much has changed, White’s original material is still the basis for the CBOA’s instructional program.

“It’s the meat of the training material that’s still used today, “ Lozano said. “We’re trying to get the same message to everybody.”

2. NCAA Central Hubs

It’s been nearly three decades since ArbiterSports introduced technology that changed the officiating industry forevermore.

Many readers of Referee receive their assignments through an ArbiterSports portal. But the company has become a major player in other areas as well in recent years, specifically the dissemination of information to officials working at the college level.

The NCAA purchased ArbiterSports in 2008. Since then it has created a series of information portals that provide officials with access to NCAA rule interpretations, memos, videos and other information.
There are separate portals for individual sports, among them football, baseball, softball, volleyball, wrestling and basketball.

To gain full access to the sites, officials must register with the NCAA through ArbiterSports, although some material is available to the public.

Rich Fetchiet oversees the College Baseball Umpires Alliance (CBUA) and assigns umpires for an assortment of college conferences at various levels, most of them in the Midwest. All of his umpires are registered with the NCAA.

“That allows them to take full advantage of the Central Hub site for baseball,” he says. “The testing programs, the video bulletins. All the different resources they offer.”

ArbiterSports also provides services for coordinators like Fetchiet, allowing him to set up a portal to pass information along to his umpires.

“That’s a place where I can post bulletins to our guys,” he says. “Registration information. Reminders, or information I need to get out. Reminders on dress code, behaviors, helpful hints on umpiring. What’s our uniform? What happens when you have to cancel?”

Fetchiet works with some 800 college umpires who are spread across the country. Having a website and portal helps him ensure that everyone receives the same information, regardless of the level they’re working.

“Here’s what I like about it,” Fetchiet says. “We’ve got a slew of D-II, D-III and NAIA conferences. Not ones that I assign specifically but throughout our umbrella organizations.

“Some (use) two umpires and some are three. From a standpoint of general policies and procedures and how we behave, professionalism, uniform and so on, I want everybody getting the same message.

“What the NCAA site and the CBUA site allow me to do is make sure that the guy who is working his first junior-college games this year is hearing the same information, is hearing the same philosophy, as the guy who is established in Division I.”

3. Video Technology

Four decades ago, NFL officials reviewed films of their games each week. At the time they were considered visionaries. Over time, film became videotape and DVDs, and the concept of video review was embraced by the NBA as well as officials working at the D-I level.

But most of the officiating community lacked easy access to video technology.

That’s no longer the case. Today the use of video has become commonplace and it’s become relatively easy for officials to observe and critique themselves in action.

Hector Rivero, the president of the Austin (Texas) Football Officials Association (AFOA), says he and his peers have been using video for a decade, but now it’s so much easier.

“Ten years ago, you would literally take a videotape and a self-addressed, prepaid envelope to the head coach,” he says, “and you’d beg him to please make a copy of his game tape and send it to you. Then it would be a matter of trying to get the crew together to sit down to look at the tape.

“Now, with more and more coaches having digital technology and being able to download their game tapes directly onto the Internet or their computers, (video) has really become a useful tool.”

The AFOA, along with many associations, utilizes a software package called Hudl, which was designed as an evaluation tool for coaches, athletes, and college recruiters. It’s also proven to be valuable to officials.

“It’s a great tool to show the entire chapter,” Rivero says. “The editing capability is what’s most useful to us. You have the ability to write notes on the screen and have a lot of interactivity while you’re editing. You can also stop the video and mark it during the actual presentation.

“It’s almost as if you’re writing on the screen the way John Madden did on TV.”

Individual crews can also utilize the Hudl package to hold online reviews of their work. If an official is involved in a questionable call, he might e-mail a video clip to each of his crewmates, who can review the clip and offer comments.

Hudl is also used as a training tool for new officials. The package allows instructors to highlight specific plays or a specific part of a specific play.

“You could circle a player, identify a player, make markings, and even write comments,” Rivero says. “It’s really a powerful took because they can see where they’re supposed to focus their attention.”

Rivero says video is also a useful aid when it comes to rule interpretations. Seeing plays on the screen, from various angles and with slow motion and freeze-frame capabilities, makes it easier for clinicians to promote a specific interpretation.

“It really helps classically condition the entire group of officials to have consistency,” he says, “and that’s what we want during the games.

“I cannot tell you how many clinics I’ve been at over the years where there’s been a lot of debate. …What I have seen in the last couple years with digital technology is the number of ‘Aha moments’ in a clinic when you can break it down and show it to 200 officials at the same time.

“They say ‘I get it now, this is what they mean.’”

4. Replay Review

The use of replay technology by officials might be the most significant development in the history of the industry.

In the 1970s, fans and the media clamored for the use of replay to correct perceived mistakes by officials. Today the use of replay is an everyday occurrence throughout professional and Division I levels.

And its use has expanded; FIFA recently approved the use of video technology to assist with goal-no goal calls in soccer.

Looking at the issue with 20-20 hindsight, the use of replay was probably inevitable, as telecasts of sporting events became more sophisticated.

The long-departed United States Football League was the first sports organization in America to utilize replay as an officiating tool. That was in 1985, the league’s final season.

The NFL followed suit the next year and other sports gradually got on board, albeit reluctantly at first. In fact, the NFL dropped replay after five seasons before bringing it back for good in 1999.

Today replay technology is interwoven into the fabric of big-time college and professional sports. Of course some sports are a better fit than others.

Football, with its natural breaks after each play and the standard dimensions of the playing surface, whatever the venue, is seemingly the ideal sport when it comes to replay.

On the other hand, the rhythms of a baseball game make the use of replay technology potentially more problematic. And in fact, baseball has been the sport that has been the most wary about embracing that technology.

But Matt McKendry, MLB’s director of umpire administration, notes that fans have access to that technology on their television screens; it was only a matter of time before it officially became a part of the game itself.

“Replay has made a huge impact,” he says, “but I think a needed impact due to the fact that those replays were visible to the general public. It’s hard not to respond to the improved technology and use it for the benefit of your game.”

No matter how video technology evolves in years to come however, there will always be a need for human officials and their experience and judgment. But going forward, replay will likely always be a part of the equation.

“You can’t run away from it,” McKendry says. “I don’t think it’s going to go the other way. The technology is there.”

5. Officiating Development Alliance

The Officiating Development Alliance (ODA) does much of its work behind the scenes. But it has had a significant impact in the officiating community in recent years.

Twice each year, executives from various officiating organizations, both amateur and professional, come together to exchange ideas and share their mutual concerns.

The meetings are closed to the media and public, resulting in free-flowing discussion. Terry Gregson, the former NHL director of officiating, says the setting encourages interaction and camaraderie.

“We kind of have a think tank,” Gregson says. “It’s a time to bounce ideas off of each other.”

Gregson, who’s been active in the ODA for the past several years, says the members of the group are in effect a support network for one another.

“What is good is sometimes you work in your own little bubble,” he says, “and you think you’re the only one with the problems and the challenges that are facing you. Then you listen to somebody from lacrosse or somebody from volleyball or somebody from soccer, whatever the case may be, and you hear they’re having the same challenges you’re having.

“You’re with a group of people who understand officiating the way you do, which is kind of a rare bird. You get a chance to talk your own language without explanations and sometimes you don’t have to say a lot to get a big message across.”

It’s not uncommon for ODA participants to take an innovation originated with another entity and adapt it for their own organization.

“We have video in what we call our War Room,” Gregson says, “and a few different leagues have reached out to us to find out how it operates. I’ve had the directors of officiating from several organizations up to my office to see how it functions.”

The ODA discusses areas such as recruiting and retention as well.

Gregson notes that the task of finding, training and bringing along young officials has become more problematic than ever. He says it’s important that young officials be properly trained and, most importantly, receive the necessary support, whatever their sport.

“A 15-year-old kid puts on a referee sweater and goes out on the ice and everyone expects him to be the expert,” Gregson says. “I talk to associations all the time and tell them you should give all your kids, whether it’s just a scrimmage or a practice, the chance to give officiating a try.

“And I’m a big advocate of organizations that have a mentorship program. It does no good to push a kid out on the field or ice and tell them, ‘Here’s a rulebook. Apply all the rules.’”

6. The Official as Analyst

When Mike Pereira, the NFL’s longtime former director of officiating, signed on as an analyst with Fox Sports, there were some raised eyebrows and more than a few skeptics.

Pereira is not the first ex-official to end up in the broadcast booth. Ex-MLB umpire Ron Luciano did some work for NBC following his retirement and Bill Chadwick had a 14-year career as a broadcaster for hockey’s New York Rangers, following a Hall of Fame career as an NHL referee.

But Luciano and Chadwick were cast as traditional color men.

Pereira’s role was a new one entirely: the official as analyst.

Some critics felt he would be less an analyst than an advocate for the league’s officiating staff.

Meanwhile, the men who once worked for Pereira had their own concerns.

“I think they were suspect of the network, not me,” Pereira says. “I think they viewed the network, any network, as an entity that likes to be controversial. I think they were concerned that I was going to end up as somewhat of a puppet for Fox.”

But Pereira won over his critics, the credible ones at any rate, through a blend of candor and thoughtful analysis.

In the same manner that former coaches and players offer their views from the broadcast booth, Pereira studies the third team on the field.

The doors that Pereira opened have been taken advantage of by several others: Retired NBA referee Steve Javie and retired NFL referee Gerald Austin both work for ESPN in similar roles. ESPN also uses officiating coordinators during its bowl coverage. And networks have consulted John Adams, NCAA national coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, especially during tournament time.

In the end, each is charged with the task of teaching the audience about the finer points of the profession.

“We’re using these positions to educate the fans about what’s going on,” Pereira says. “It’s hard to turn officiating into a positive but we can at least give people a greater understanding of what officiating is about.”

Pereira’s own role is expanding. He now does a column on the Fox Sports website and is part of two studio shows on Fox’s new sports cable network. Pereira sees all this as part of a trend.

“We represent a faction that hasn’t been represented before,” he says “I think you’ll see more networks reaching out to people like myself to try to get this view that they haven’t gotten before.”

7. Pros Step Up Training

Baseball is a sport steeped in tradition. Through the years that tradition has extended to the way aspiring umpires are trained.

Several hundred candidates enroll at an umpire school each winter. A small percentage are offered jobs in the minor leagues and perhaps spend years chasing their dream. In the end only a few from each class will work a major league game.

The first umpire school was launched in 1935 by NL umpire George Barr and for more than three quarters of a century, the protocol for training minor-league umpires was relatively unchanged.

But in recent years the Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation (PBUC), which oversees all minor league umpires, has taken a hands-on approach to training them. Today PBUC operates its own umpire school in Vero Beach, Fla.

Justin Klemm, executive director of both PBUC and The Umpire School, noted the organization considered launching a school for some years and when the old Dodgertown facility became available, the time seemed right. The first session was held in January 2012. A total of 38 students attended the four-week program.

“We teach them how to manage people, work under pressure, and diffuse conflicts,” Klemm says. “Ninety-eight percent of them will go into some other profession but I want them to look back proudly at the time they spent here.”

Other leagues have also adopted their own means of development. The NBA has used the D-League as a development league for officials as well as players for a long time, but in recent years it brings up a small cadre of officials who work early regular-season games. And the NFL this past preseason brought a staff of development officials into training camps and let them work alongside staff members during the preseason games.

8. Regionalization

Time was when most officials stayed close to home, even at the D-I level. There were split-crew games from time to time of course, but for the most part Eastern officials stayed on the East Coast, while their colleagues in the South or the Midwest worked in their respective territories.
When it comes to D-I football and basketball those days are gone.

Even before the era of the “superconference,” officiating coordinators, particularly those overseeing multiple conferences, were searching far and wide for the top talent without regard to geographic boundaries.

Bill Carollo is the coordinator of football officials for the College Officiating Consortium (COC), which encompasses the Big Ten, and the Mid-American Conference (MAC) in the FBS, the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Pioneer League in the FCS, plus four Division III conferences.

The arrangement offers a number of advantages. Officials working in the affiliated conferences are hearing one voice when it comes to policies, procedures and training.

Carollo spent two decades in the NFL himself and a number of active and retired NFL officials work for him as position trainers. Perhaps most importantly, Carollo and his associates and spot good prospects and get them ‘into the pipeline’ relatively quickly.

“We can identify someone at the D-III level,” Carollo says, “or at a lower level of D-I. They’re in the program and we just keep moving them.

“Next year we give them two games in the MAC, the year after that give them a full schedule, and three years later they’re going to be in the Big Ten.

“In the past you’d have to impress a whole different group of people. Maybe your supervisor liked you but another supervisor would be getting more people from Chicago than from Pittsburgh. It was a lot harder to move around.”

Today officials working at the collegiate level are traveling more than ever, a trend that is likely to continue.

Going forward, the era of an official working collegiate and high-school schedules simultaneously may be a thing of the past.

Carollo for one seems to think that’s the case, particularly in football.

“They can probably do D-III and still do high school,” he says. “We don’t require them to be in the night before. But in all of Division I, they have to be in the night before and they have to do a pregame.

“It costs my conferences more money. We have to give (officials)  a little more expense money to get them to come in early. But the coaches and the athletic directors and the commissioners expect us to be prepared.”

If things had stayed the same over the years since Referee published its first issue, those of us in the industry would be way behind. The reality is, the world is moving forward, and everything — including officiating — is moving with it.

Rick Woelfel is a freelance writer from Philadelphia. He is also a baseball and softball umpire.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 12/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – ‘Got Him in the Box!’

Batted Balls Off the Foot Require Slow Timing, Luck

Got-Him-in-the-Box

By Jon Bible

The opening game of the 2011 MLB World Series featured what my former football supervisor, Tim Millis, calls a funk-Jon play — one of those awful ones in which something goofy happens in the blink of an eye, but you don’t have all of the pieces of the puzzle so you don’t know exactly what happened. According to TV replays — and it took one after another, angle after angle, in high definition and slow motion to tell — a batted ball barely nicked the batter’s foot and rolled into fair territory, where the defense played it for an out. Because none of the umpires could tell that the ball hit off the foot, the play stood as called.

That play is akin to one involving a pitch that is so close to the batter that it is virtually impossible to tell if it grazed him or not. But it’s even more of a nightmare because unlike the pitch play, which happens in front of us, it involves the batter’s foot (or lower leg), meaning we are often going to be obscured by the catcher (and maybe the batter as well depending on the stance he takes) no matter how high we work. All we know is the batter swung and the ball ended up in fair territory; what happened in between is a mystery. The only thing we can do is to resort to circumstantial evidence and deductive reasoning. Hopefully if we can identify two-plus-two and put them together, we will come up with four.

As a sidelight, in my first year in pro ball (1970), an analogous situation resulted in one of the worst calls (or, more correctly, no-calls) of my career, before or since. With a runner on first, the batter squared to bunt. The pitch came inside and the next thing I knew the ball was in front of the plate. How it got there I hadn’t a clue. It turned out that the batted ball had hit off the catcher’s shinguard and then rolled toward the pitcher. How that happened I also haven’t a clue. But I was pretty green then and anything was possible.

Although there were all sorts of telltale signs that should have pointed me to the right result (the batter didn’t immediately run and the pitcher, who fielded it, started to walk back to the mound), when the defense finally yelled to him to throw the ball to second, a double play resulted. For whatever reason I can’t recall now, my partner couldn’t help me, so we had to eat it. Oddly, no one got ejected. I think everyone was so stunned at how badly I screwed up that they could not muster enough energy to get tossed.

In the foul ball situation, the first question is whether the batter or the ball behaved any differently than they usually do. If the batter runs immediately, with no hesitation and if the ball comes out with some bounce to it, like a normally batted ball does, there is no reason to think anything is amiss. And almost always, there won’t be, although it is conceivable that a batted ball could glance off a batter’s foot without the batter’s or ball’s subsequent action indicating that; in that case, there’s nothing we can do. But if the batter hesitates and/or the ball doesn’t have the usual hop that a batted ball does, warning bells should go off.

Key number one in that situation is not to be too quick to do anything. That is where slow timing is important; as the old saying goes, “It ain’t nuthin’ until we call it,” so stand there for a couple of seconds, watch and process what happens and then sell the hell out of whatever you come up with. If you go with clean hit, react as you usually would — start trailing the runner toward first or whatever the runner combination calls for. If you go with foul ball, yell, “Foul! Foul! It hit him in the box!” and point emphatically toward the ground two or three times like you’re 100 percent sure. You know you’re not, but you can’t let them think that or they will crucify you. The best defense is a good offense.

First, watch the batter. If he immediately starts wallowing around like a stuck pig, grimacing and shaking his foot, it doesn’t require Sherlock Holmes to tell you foul ball is the best call. Maybe the ball didn’t hit him, but especially at the non-professional levels it is almost certain that no batter is adept enough to instantaneously begin a stellar performance based on a lie. So foul ball may not be the right call — it probably will be — but it is the safe one and people will buy it because there is good circumstantial evidence that is what happened.

Sometimes, however, the ball just nicks the batter’s foot and he doesn’t know it hit him, so he shoots right out of the box toward first as if nothing is amiss. No help there. What we have is a batted ball that went straight down, could have hit the batter and rolled in front of the plate and a runner acting like everything is hunky-dory. So the next thing to consider is how the ball came out. If it rolls flatly and hugs the ground, like someone tossed it underhanded, that’s good evidence that it hit the batter’s foot, because a ball that is normally hit will have some hop to it.

Obviously, to call foul then is to gamble, because the batter’s action in running to first without hesitation tells you he didn’t think he got hit. So you should call foul only if the path and trajectory of the ball are so clearly different from those of a normally hit ball that the only reasonable explanation is that it hit something other than dirt. You have to know that you know that it isn’t how a batted ball usually rolls before you call foul because it is, in my book, better to let the play go even if it really was foul than it is to make what turns out to be a phantom foul call.

Watching how the ball rolls is also useful when the batter does something in between nothing and acting like he has been shot. Sometimes he will hesitate briefly but then run because he’s not sure if he got hit or he’s not confident that the umpire will think so. That in-between thing is not enough to make me as the plate umpire go with a foul call, because maybe he didn’t get hit but just stumbled. But if the ball also comes out skimming the ground, that two-plus-the-other-two (batter’s hesitation) equals four (foul ball).

In a 1957 World Series game, plate umpire Augie Donatelli awarded Nippy Jones first base after he saw some black shoe polish on the ball. But in amateur ball we use the same ball far more than they do in the major leagues, so we can’t really know when a ball got smudged or what caused it. So that avenue is unlikely to be helpful to us in terms of providing meaningful circumstantial evidence.

What should the base umpire(s) do? That is one of those situations in which reasonable minds can differ, but I believe that “nothing” is almost always the right answer.

More than once I’ve seen top-notch umpires kill a play from first base when I knew, or was later told, that the ball didn’t come near hitting the batter. One time at the University of Texas that happened in a four-umpire crew. As a result Texas didn’t get its home-to-first, inning-ending double play, but did end up with two ejections.

The only situation in which I will intervene from the bases is if, based on how the ball rolls as described above, it is absolutely apparent it was not a normally batted ball and the only explanation is that it hit the batter’s foot or leg. Hopefully the plate umpire will read the play the same way and kill it before I do, but if he lets the play go and I am 100 percent sure it was foul — not 99 percent — I will kill it. If the plate umpire does nothing, the batter runs and the ball doesn’t roll in an unusual way, I’m not going to stop play, even if I sense that something is not right. There is just not enough circumstantial evidence to do so.

As for whether a plate umpire should honor a coach’s request to ask his partner(s) — and that is another instance in which I know I will get disagreement — I say the answer is no. First, we obviously can’t ask for help if we kill the play, because we can’t undo that; instead, we can seek help only if we let the play proceed. But I think that is one of those cases — like a hit batsman, which I’ve argued in these pages a plate umpire should not seek help — in which the plate umpire has to own the call and not dump it on his partners who are much farther away from the play than he is and certainly are in no better position to know if the ball actually hit the foot.

As noted, if the facts convince them 100 percent that the ball was foul, they should kill the play on the spot; otherwise, they should not intervene. And so my answer to the coach will simply be, “Coach, if he (or they) had the ball hitting the batter, they would already have killed the play.”

He won’t be happy, but too bad. And I firmly believe we should never ask for help just to pacify a coach, but should instead do so only if we think we might be missing some piece of the puzzle that our partner(s) might be able to supply.

Whether a batted ball nicked the batter’s foot is one of those times when, without benefit of replay, we may never be sure of what happened. In such cases, it is hoped deliberate timing and circumstantial evidence will get us to the right place. First, what did the batter do; second, what did the ball do? If, based on that evidence, we’re not 100 percent sure the play should be killed, we should let it continue. We should not compound the chances of a royal screw-up by having base umpires kill plays when the plate umpire didn’t unless they are positive the ball was foul. And we shouldn’t make ourselves look worse than we already do by not calling the play foul initially, then huddling up at a coach’s request and announcing that we’re sure the ball was foul when we obviously didn’t have that certainty at the outset. I couldn’t even get my wife to buy that if I was trying to sell it and (generally speaking) she’s a lot more inclined to agree with me than coaches are.

Jon Bible, Austin, Texas, is a veteran umpire who has worked six NCAA Division I College World Series.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Basketball – Two-Minute Workout

Athletic-man-running-with-music

Here is an example of a two-minute basketball-specific sequence, mentioned in the 7/15 issue of Referee, that you could incorporate in your workout routine:

• Start on the endline and sprint down the court to the opposite trail position.

• Initiate a closely guarded count.

• At four seconds indicate a three-point attempt and score the goal.

• Sprint back to the opposite endline as the new lead.

• Move to close down.

• Initiate a rotation.

• Sprint to opposite trail position.

• Initiate a closely guarded count.

• At four seconds indicate three-point attempt.

• Score the goal.

• Sprint to opposite endline.

• Move to close down.

• Initiate a rotation.

• Sprint to opposite trail position.

• Rotate to the center position.

• Indicate a three-point attempt.

• Score the goal.

• Sprint to opposite center position.

• Indicate a three-point attempt.

• Score the goal.

Try to complete that cycle in less than two minutes. Don’t wait. Do it now.

June 2015 Officiating In Perspective with Barry Mano

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View the Pub Memo Archive

Five Minutes With Margaret Domka

Five-Minutes-With-Margaret-Domka

Margaret Domka is on the FIFA International Panel of Referees. She is one of a select few officials to ever go onto the FIFA list as an assistant referee, come off that list, wait a year to qualify and then
go back on the list as a referee. Domka started refereeing in 1993, gained her USSF National badge in 2006 and went onto the FIFA list for the first time in 2007. Domka, of Milwaukee, has also refereed NCAA National Championship tournaments in 2004 and 2006. She referees in the Women’s Professional Soccer league, and serves USSF as an assessor, instructor and mentor. Domka is a high school Spanish teacher and takes advantage of her Spanish skills by instructing referee clinics in Spanish.

Referee: Why did you leave the FIFA list as an assistant to come back on as a referee?
Domka: When I was invited to join the FIFA panel as an assistant referee, I was thrilled to be chosen. I was honored to have been nominated and excited to have the opportunity to be an assistant in international matches — seeing some of the best players in the world. After getting some game experience at that level, though, I realized that as honored as I was to be on the panel, I truly wanted to be a referee. I feel that the referee, assistant referees and fourth official must work together as a team in order to be successful. Therefore, none of those roles is more important than the others. But I desired the increased interaction with players that I have as a referee — along with the responsibility of leading the referee team.

Referee: What leadership skills must a quality referee have and why?
Domka: Each game has it own protocol and the referee must be able to work with players, coaches and stadium staff to make sure that protocol is met. Officiating successfully also requires a great deal of teamwork among the crew. The referee is in charge of initiating the crew’s communications well before game day and guiding the crew in their preparations for the game. The referee must also determine how the crew will communicate during the game. While each crew member’s responsibilities are equally important, a crew can only be successful if they are able to communicate necessary information to each other in appropriate ways and at appropriate times. Essentially, it is the referee’s job to make sure that each member of the crew is on the same page regarding what each other’s responsibilities are and what the expectations will be for the specific game that is being officiated.

Referee: How has your experience as a FIFA assistant referee helped to make you a better referee?
Domka: My experience as an AR has helped me in two ways. First, I had the opportunity to work with some of the top FIFA referees. I learned from them what to expect from each member of the referee team, along with how to communicate those expectations. I was able to observe and assist them with interactions between the players, coaches and stadium staff to ensure that game protocol was met. All of those experiences helped me know what to expect and how to manage game procedures when I became a FIFA referee.

And second, I learned a great deal about the job of an AR. I now have a better understanding of some of the challenges ARs face in professional games, along with circumstances when they might be able to provide me with additional assistance on the field. My own experiences as an AR will certainly help me have a better idea of what to expect from my ARs and things that I can do to make their jobs easier.
Referee: What are your goals as a referee?
Domka: My big goal is to eventually be assigned to the Olympics and/or the Women’s World Cup. In the Women’s Professional Soccer league, my goal is to be able to serve the league well and consistently. I hope that my performance allows me to serve this professional league and others for several years to come. The league has recruited many of the world’s top players and the games promise to be exciting. In that league, the top team during regular-season play earns a bid into the championship game — and receives home-field advantage. All regular-season games, therefore, are very intense and important for the teams.
Referee: How did you advance to the level you are currently working?
Domka: When I was a very young referee working games as a summer job, I had no aspirations for advancement. Earning a FIFA badge was not even a consideration at that point. But I’ve had many fantastic mentors, assessors and instructors along the way that helped me realize what opportunities were available and supported me through every step of development. I can’t thank those people enough for their support. I hope that all mentors, assessors and instructors know their value and continue their involvement because their work does make a difference!
Referee: In addition to your onfield officiating, you instruct referee clinics in Spanish. What is involved in those clinics?
Domka: I have taught both entry level and re-certification clinics in Spanish for USSF. The course outlines and materials are exactly the same as in English, but allow Spanish speakers a better opportunity to learn from these courses and become more familiar with the Laws of the Game. There are very few certified instructors in Wisconsin that are bilingual, so I am able to help recruit referees who love the game, but may otherwise have a hard time becoming involved. Each of the courses I have taught in Spanish has been very fun and rewarding because the participants were extremely excited to learn about the game.

Volleyball – Ballhandling Judgment a Key Skill to Master

Hold It! Ballhandling Judgment a Key Skill to Master

Ballhandling-Judgment-a-Key-Skill-to-Master

By Julie Voeck

primary responsibility of the first referee is to determine whether a player makes legal contact each time he or she plays the ball. The referee must ensure the ball has not been held, caught and thrown or “over-controlled.” That means referees are making hundreds of judgment decisions in a single match. Ballhandling judgment is often considered the most important skill for a volleyball referee to master, similar to calling balls and strikes in baseball or softball.

Who decides? Only the first referee can whistle ballhandling faults. When the second referee believes the first referee may have been screened from seeing a contact, he or she may indicate that opinion to the first referee using a discreet signal; however, the second referee cannot whistle to stop play and make that call.

The spin of the ball is not considered when determining the legality of the contact, nor should the referee consider the player’s body position, the technique used, or the sound of the contact.

To determine the legality of each contact, the first referee should lead the ball with his or her eyes, rather than follow the ball in the air. The referee should focus on the actual contact of the ball on the body part, then pick up the next play/player with his or her eyes.

When is a ball considered “held” or caught/thrown? The various rules codes give specific guidance to help the referee judge whether the ball was legally played. NCAA and USAV rules state, “The ball must be hit cleanly and not caught or thrown. It can rebound in any direction” (USAV 9.2.2; NCAA 14.2.2). NCAA rules also include “prolonged contact with the ball is a fault.” NFHS (9-4-5) uses slightly different wording that says, “Legal contact is a touch of the ball by any part of a player’s body which does not allow the ball to visibly come to rest or involve prolonged contact with a player’s body.” A held or “caught and thrown” ball normally occurs when the player over-controls the ball. Any first team hit can be a multiple or double contact, but a double contact on a team’s second or third team hit is illegal. A caught/thrown or held ball is always illegal, whether it’s a block or the first, second or third team hit.

There are numerous playing actions that may result in prolonged contact with the ball or the ball being caught/thrown or held:

Forearm pass. That is a common technique where players hold their arms together, forearms facing upward, to form a platform to pass the ball. It is often used during serve reception and when making other first team contacts. The ball is played legally when it rebounds quickly from the platform. When the player isn’t able to control the ball with a forearm pass, the ball may contact the player multiple times (i.e., rebounding from forearms then to the shoulder), or may roll up the player’s arms. In most situations, that play should not be considered a held ball if it occurs on the first contact where multiple contacts with the ball are allowed. However, it is a fault on a second or third contact where multiple contacts are illegal. A ball that quickly rolls up the arms and doesn’t visibly come to rest is generally not considered “held.”

A ball can be overcontrolled by a player using a forearm pass. When the player catches or stops the ball between his or her arms, a held ball has likely occurred.

Setting action. A held ball may result when the ball is played using “setting action” (an overhand finger pass), and the player catches or holds the ball before releasing it. For example, when the setter’s intended hitter is late getting into position for the attack, the setter may be slow in releasing the ball, and a catch/throw or held ball may result. 

Attacking the ball. A held ball can occur if the player catches and throws the ball when attacking or “tipping” the ball across the net. It is legal for a player to use his or her fingertips to attack the ball, but the ball must be played without being caught, thrown or held.

Ball falling near the floor. A held ball could result when a player is trying to play a ball that is very close to the floor by getting underneath the ball to prevent it from hitting the playing surface. A player may use a single, open hand in an attempt to keep the ball in play, and may catch the ball to prevent it from touching the floor. A ball is generally not caught/thrown or held if a player makes contact underneath the ball with an open hand provided the ball rebounds off the open hand.

Ball played out of the net. That is a play that often results in referees automatically making a call when the ball was actually played legally. As long as the ball rebounds off the player, the referee should allow play to continue and not make a call based on the player’s body position or technique. A ball falling down the front of the net often rebounds slowly from a player’s arm(s) or hand(s) because it isn’t carrying much momentum. A slow rebound shouldn’t be confused with an illegal catch/throw.

Determining ballhandling legality is a skill all referees must learn. Regardless of a referee’s experience, it is an area that everyone can improve upon with practice. Strive for consistency, stay current with playing trends and techniques, and seek feedback from partners and fellow referees to help identify areas you can improve.

Julie Voeck, Milwaukee, is president of the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials. She is also an FIVB international referee, and college and high school volleyball referee.

“This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, citations, mechanics and/or officiating philosophies found in this article may or may not be correct for the current year.”

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 09/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – What Assigners Really Do

Some people think assigners have an easy job. But the truth is that the demands of assigning coupled with the pressure being applied by coaches, schools and the officials themselves rule out the undertaking for the faint of heart.

What-Assigners-Really-Do

 

By Jeffrey Stern

From the outside looking in, assigning officials sounds like a simple enough task: Make a grid, get the schedule, fill in the dates, put names next to the dates. Done. Just that easy. Just that quick.

As a wise man once said, if it were that easy, anyone could do it. Turns out, there is a lot more to it than that.

Participants in a panel discussion at the 2013 NASO Sports Officiating Summit provided a glimpse of the process that is assigning officials.

“I think there’s a misconception that when you’re assigning, you just kind of put names on games,” said Dana Pappas, commissioner of officials for the New Mexico Activities Association.

For instance, what kind of things do assigners worry about? Bill Carollo, coordinator of college football officials for the Midwest Football Officials Alliance, which includes the Big Ten, Mid-American and Missouri Valley Football conferences, has sleepless nights wondering if he’s covered every possible base.

“I never assigned until a few years ago,” Carollo said. “My biggest worry was always if I missed a game; if I made a mistake. It’s a lot of administrative responsibility. So I would always worry and double check and make sure, and then put the responsibility back on the school to make sure that these are the games that they’ve asked us to assign and have that confirmed. But I’d always worry about maybe someone not showing up because I didn’t assign it.”

Jim Corstange assigns football and basketball officials in the southwest part of Michigan. Despite years of experience, he still frets over possible mistakes.

“Dealing with 50 schools, 50
athletic directors, and they keep changing their schedules constantly, you want to make sure that your game is correct,” Corstange said.
“Then I want to make sure those officials show up. Yes I use ArbiterSports (Internet-based assigning) and yes I send out reminders. But I usually call that same day just to make sure, just to double check, and then I feel comfortable. And if the game time is 7:00 and if my phone rings at 6:30, I get nervous.”

“In our office, I do all the postseason assignments,” Pappas said. “There are weekends when I’ll have 80 games and 240 basketball officials. The entire time I’m just looking at my phone because nothing is worse than a 1 p.m. start and your phone is ringing at 12:30 (with an administrator asking), ‘Are we going to have officials for this first-round state playoff game?’”

Assist Advancement?

In some cases, an official is being offered a reward for good work with an assignment, or is being given his or her first crack at a big game. Assigners like to help up-and-comers in that way, but how do they weigh that against the comfort of the known quantity, the veteran who has handled plum assignments before?

“I like to put the rookie, if you will, in with the veteran crew,” said Tom Lopes, executive director of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials and coordinator of basketball officials for the Northeast Conference. “With three officials, it’s sometimes easy to let that happen.”

As the coordinator of a lower-profile collegiate conference, Lopes sees developing the next cadre of top officials as part of his job. “It’s my goal to lose (promising) officials,” he said. “When I say lose, I mean that they get promoted and move up to, say, the Big East or the Big Ten. If I can give them that foundation, I think that’s an important role that we play as assigners.”

Carollo takes a similar tack. “I think you have certain games and you want a veteran and experienced official on that game,” he said. “I tend more to look at the merits of it. Is he ready for that game? You try to work them in.”

As a football assigner, one advantage Carollo has is the size of the crew. “It’s harder to hide on the basketball court with two or three officials. But you can slide somebody in as an alternate in football as one of the position officials,” he said. “Certainly I think that merit is really important but you have to blend that in with some experience. And you don’t get that experience unless you put a young guy in and match him up with an experienced referee, and you want him to shadow that guy for the day. You put him on the sideline or on the field. I say, ‘You’re going to be on this person’s crew, and I want you to watch how he handles his pregame, how he handles the game, how he handles the professionalism and the communication on the sideline.’ That’s how you learn. You have to give them experience and give them a chance to make a mistake. I’m OK with the young guy making a mistake.”

At the high school level, Corstange encourages crews to work with newer officials on freshman and JV games. But he relies on his own eyes and ears to find out who’s earned a promotion.

“When you look at the games you want to make sure you have the right people there,” he said. “And how do they get that? From what they’ve done in the past. At my level, I’ve got 25 games a night. I can’t be at all 25 places (to observe). And I rarely have an observer watching the officials. Some of my officials who get injured want to be involved, and they say, ‘Hey, can I go evaluate for you?’ So I do have a couple people that keep doing that for me, but I rely a lot on my veteran officials to give me input on younger officials to see if they are capable of doing those varsity games.”

Brian Hemelgarn does some assigning and training for the Professional Association of Volleyball Officials and is an active volleyball official. He said mixing veterans with newer officials is common in volleyball. But he also acknowledged that assigners have to balance rewards with the perils of moving someone up too quickly. “I think it’s important that we challenge referees when we give them matches but not put them in a position where they’re not going to be successful,” he said. “So at least in volleyball, for example, giving someone a level of play that they can be challenged yet still find a reasonable level of success is extremely important. We’ve got a lot of younger referees with less experience at least in terms of number of years that call really good matches. And so they sometimes get a primo assignment over a veteran who might deserve the opportunity in terms of experience. But the newer folks coming up are really out there working hard and they get the better assignments at times.”

Handle Coaches

Whether the officials working games are veterans, newcomers or in between, there are going to be disgruntled coaches or athletic directors. The delicate balance of keeping the customers happy with supporting officials is a challenge for assigners.

“When we took over the league four or five years ago, we had a coaches meeting and we got approval from the commissioner,” Lopes said. “We have two rules with our coaches. One is don’t call me the night of a game. The emotion is too high, they can’t see straight, they’re not objective, it’s always our fault anyway. So with that said the next day go look at the film, jot down the notes you want to make, and then call me.”

Lopes said many coaches found that once they had time to look at video of the play, they didn’t need to make the angry phone call. “Because after they reviewed the plays, our officials were correct. That happens 90 plus percent of the time,” he said.

The second rule, Lopes said, comes into play if he is present at a game. He tells the coaches, “Don’t make any signals to me. I can’t help you,” he said. “I never sit at the press table. I’m in the stands somewhere where they can’t see me. But they know I’m there.”

If the coach is unwise enough to gesture to Lopes, the officials have been instructed to slap them with a technical foul. “It’s been, luckily, somewhat successful,” he said. “The coaches are pretty positive. They like what’s being done.”

Carollo’s philosophy in regard to coach’s phone calls is pretty basic. “I don’t give my head coaches my phone number,” he said. “I make them go to their athletic director first. I don’t care whether it’s after the game or whatever. (After talking with the coach), if the athletic director feels that they need to talk to me, I let them give me a call. And I’ve had that happen several times, but I’ll never take a call after the game.”

“I save coaches’ phone numbers in my phone,” Pappas said. “If it’s Tuesday night and (a coach’s number) comes up on my (caller ID), I scream. Then I’ll call the next day and I’ll say, ‘Coach, what’s going on?’ ‘Nothing, I was just mad last night.’ And I’ll say, ‘That’s why I didn’t answer your call.’ You do get pretty good at monitoring those things.”

Identify the Red Flags

It is important for an assigner to not only know the kind of official being sent out to work, but the kind of person. As Carollo put it, “It behooves us to know exactly what the expectations are for an official to be in this conference.”

Background checks are common today at all levels and may or may not fall under the assigner’s purview.

“The NCAA has taken over that responsibility,” Carollo said. “But we also do background checks through the Big Ten office and through my (Football Championship Subdivision) conferences. The guys know that if it’s drunken driving or something out of the court or even financial issues, we get involved in all those and we do a check. And sometimes red flags will come up, and we want to look into that just because it could relate to officiating.”

Hemelgarn said USA Volleyball conducts background screening for all referees and coaches. “Primarily the flags would be offenses involving minors, or drug or alcohol offenses,” he said. The check looks seven years into the past to look for issues.

Pappas and Corstange work with high school officials, so the state association handles the checks.

Embrace Diversity

Some assigners, particularly at the high school level, face the mandate — or at least a strong suggestion — from those in charge to hire minorities.

“I don’t think we have done enough to involve diversity in athletics as far as officiating is concerned,” Carollo added. “And when I say diversity I’m not just talking African-American. There’s a lot of nationalities out here that got excluded in the past. Let’s use females as an example. Most women did not have the opportunity to play football so there’s less women going into it. But today it’s changing. And I think the coaches will buy into it. They understand. It’s a different world than it was in the ’60s and ’70s and where a lot of the coaches came out of when they were playing. So it’s a concern of mine to make sure that we do uncover and identify all the best officials possible.”

Hemelgarn said the volleyball community has been working to be more inclusive of women. “I think there’s really an active movement to keep women involved and get them involved and to challenge them regardless of whether it’s boys’ or men’s or girls’ or women’s big matches,” he said. “I think there’s an effort to put them on those matches. And many of them do quite well, and we’re always looking for that diversity or that strong background and presence on the court to give them opportunities.”

Pappas comes from a state with a great mix of races and nationalities. Exposing athletics to those cultures is a way of recruiting future officials. “We really try to look at the populations of our state and try to get more people involved so that kids of that particular nationality or race are aware that’s a viable option for them,” she said. “We lose so many potential officials that don’t understand how to get involved in officiating. If you don’t see someone who is like you, whether it’s female, whether it’s whatever nationality you are in that avocation or that profession, you’re probably not going to go in that direction because you’re not seeing people. It’s that homologous reproduction thing. If you don’t see somebody who looks like you, you’re probably not going to go into that field.”

To that point, Hemelgarn cited the story of an African-American referee who wanted to move up to a national level certification. “On the USA Volleyball website, we have an officiating page that has pictures of all of the national level referees. And he came to me and he said, ‘I went to that web page and I was looking for a mentor. I was looking for somebody like me. I want to be up at that level because the next guy behind me wants to look up and find another referee just like them.’

“I had never thought of that before, and it was really kind of an eye opener for me,” Hemelgarn said, adding that the referee in question did advance to the national level.

Use Evaluation Input

It is difficult to conduct training sessions during the course of a basketball season. But Lopes has one idea that is along those lines.

“After each of our games, all crews have to report to me at least two plays that they questioned themselves about,” he said. “By the next morning I have an email from each of the crewmembers with the time of the two plays. In the morning we can re-evaluate what took place the night before.”

When it comes to hiring observers, Corstange fights the same budget battle as many assigners: Everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but no one wants to pay for it.

“Our state has developed an observers program, and I think that has really helped to evaluate officials and to give us as assigners input to what crews are like, what individuals are like and so forth. But I wish I had more people out there to help evaluate officials to give me more input so I know how to assign properly and do the right thing. I go to the conferences that I work for and say, ‘Can I get $500 to help pay some people to go out and help evaluate?’ And they’re going to say, ‘We don’t have the money.’”

Pappas said her state has tried a couple of different evaluation systems. “We had tried active officials and, of course, that becomes, ‘He said I’m terrible because he wants my games.’ We’re using retired officials and training them through the system and keeping them current in the rulebook and doing more and more with that to make sure that we have eyes on. Because at the end of the day what really does make an assigner’s job so much easier is to make sure that we’re aware of the talents of our officials and the skill level and where they should be as opposed to where they end up.”

Assigner Advice

Despite the trials and tribulations, assigning is a necessary and important component of officiating. What advice would the panel give someone who is or wants to be an assigner?

Remember that you aren’t just filling games, Carollo said, but building a staff. “If I only can give (newer officials) a couple games, I will call other conferences and try to share officials to give them more assignments. I will call neighboring conferences and say, ‘Why don’t you take this guy?’ We both like this official, let’s help this official.”

Corstange said if he were new to assigning he would check with veteran assigners. “Find out what it’s about, what needs to be done, what are the ups and downs, the pluses and negatives,” he said. “Be prepared for it before you’re thrown into it. I feel I was kind of thrown into it, and so I’m learning as I’m going.”

“What’s important for me,” Pappas said, “is being visible and having people know that I’m out watching and showing up at camps and going to different parts of the state. Because if I’m ultimately the person between the stamp of approval on a state tournament assignment, people will say, ‘It’s not fair. She’s never seen me work.’ If I’m not out working with officials, seeing them … I think people have a skewed perception — they feel like you don’t even know who they are.”

Jeffrey Stern is Referee’s senior editor. He is a veteran high school and collegiate football official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 11/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – No Regrets

Time to Step Up!

Regrets can be haunting. Don’t be that official who looks back at a game and says, “If only I had done this … or that.” Learn how to do the right thing in the first place.

No-Regrets

By Tom Schreck

Sometimes you can do everything in your power to get a call right and still blow it. That’s a tough regret to live with, but it’s even tougher to live with the regrets that you could have avoided. You can do things while the action unfolds in front of you to minimize your regrets and you can do things away from the game for your career that will have you looking in life’s rearview mirror a lot less.

Be aware, put yourself in position and be prepared, not just to make the right call in a contest, but to make the right career moves. Let’s take a look at how you can avoid some of the most common regrets from officials.

I Regret … Not Taking Care of Personalities

Officiating requires dealing with difficult people who are often at their worst, especially under the stress of a close contest. Letting their behavior get to you personally can take you away from the game, but ignoring it brings its own issues. There’s a delicate balance to keeping control of the game and yourself but, like it or not, sometimes you have to face it head on.

You may tell yourself that the hot-headed, foul-mouthed coach with the explosive personality disorder is just blowing off steam. You may reason that addressing the situation will only escalate the disruption. You could be rationalizing your way out of a situation that you should address.

“When a coach is getting vocal it takes away your concentration. You wind up babysitting him or her instead of paying attention to what’s happening between the lines and your concentration isn’t on the floor,” Michael Price, an NCAA Division I basketball referee, says. “If a coach or a player breaks your concentration, you need to deal with it.”

For Price it’s not about his ego or punishment for the obnoxious coach; it is about addressing a factor that is interfering with his ability to call the game. Take the personalities out of it and keep it simple. It’s about doing your job.

Despite what many fans and coaches may think, officials are flesh and blood. Each individual has a different level of tolerance. For some, the gnawing relentless heckling from the bench blends into the white noise of the contest. For others, it becomes a thorn in the side of focused attention.

Knowing you’re not the only official in the world is important, too. Keep in my mind that if you don’t take care of business you might be leaving a mess for another official to clean up later in the season.

“I may know the personality of a coach and the things he or she says may not offend me,” says Robbie Guest, an NCAA Division I softball and baseball umpire. “Still, I have to address it because if what he or she is saying is inappropriate and he or she says it to another official later on, it’s going to cause a problem.”

Taking care of the situation and dealing with poor behavior so that the game can progress naturally does not mean escalating the situation. Be direct, assertive and responsible without throwing gas on the coach’s sizzling embers. Check your own ego at the door and rely on the subtle confidence your experience has brought.

“My job is to be a calming influence and if I escalate things I really regret that,” Randy Wetzel, a 2011 NCAA College World Series baseball umpire, says. “It makes me look bad as a professional.”

Walking the thin line of addressing the situation without escalating it is as much art as it is science. A fair amount of social skills, body language and a few choice words can get the job done and it is an easier strategy than taking on an ego-driven coach wanting to go head-to-head.

“The first time I hear something out of line I might look toward the dugout with my mask on. The second time I might take my mask off, give a look and let them know that I don’t want to hear any more. The third time they do something it means time for an ejection,” Guest says.

Keep your mind clear, leave personalities out of the situation and deal with what’s in front of you before it becomes an unmanageable problem that you wish you had taken care of earlier.

I Regret … Not Making the Big Call

A good official knows the game is about the contest and the participants. By nature, officiating is not about garnering attention.

Many like to say, “When you do your job well, you are invisible to everyone.” But that sentiment can get in the way of optimal performance. The rules and games often call for difficult and unpopular calls at crucial times. Those attention-drawing calls have to be made, but sometimes an official won’t make them because he or she wants to stay in the background. That is a mistake and one that can linger.

“The big call in the big moment is why we’re there. It is the point where all of your training and study comes to a head,” Guest says. “You don’t want to let the excitement of the moment influence you. When I know a game is on the line, I want to be sure that I’m in position and in the right place so I can slow the game down in my mind. At that point I just rely on muscle memory to make the call. A lot of times I don’t realize how big the call was until after the game.”

Keep in mind the players are responsible for their actions. Officials are there to enforce the rules and manage the contest. It is up to you to assess what you see and take action. It is not your fault or responsibility when a player screws up at a crucial time.

“Sometimes we carry the burden of the situation rather than examining the facts. We’re there to make the decision and to uphold the rules. It is not our job to think of the circumstances around it,” says Ben Trevino, NCAA Division I soccer referee.

Avoid feeling responsible for how the contest will ultimately be decided. Make the calls you need to make based on what the players do while in front of you. Let the chips fall where they may and go to your next assignment without regret.

I Regret … Failing to Write the Report

A good part of any profession, in or out of officiating, is taken up with what can seem to be an excruciating amount of minutiae. It’s a necessary evil.

Adopt that type of attitude and don’t expect to get a lot of assignments. The reporting requirements to conference and association leaders are there for a reason. You may get all the calls right when you blow the whistle or call safes and outs, but you’ll live to regret not taking care of business after the buzzer sounds or the final out is called.

“Not doing reports correctly can hurt referees,” Trevino says. “I’ve seen it. Basically it’s part of the job and a requirement. They are hiring you for your services and not doing them puts a strain on administration.”

Internet blogs are set up to criticize officials, so supervisors can be aided by backup documentation to support decisions that wind up under the microscope. Supervisors want to support you and cover themselves because their reputations are on the line as well. Information is power and organized documentation can help you, your supervisor and your organization come out with your respect intact.

“Getting your reports done correctly and on time isn’t glamorous, but it is important,” Wetzel says. “I’m an assistant vice principal of a high school so I’m used to writing reports. Don’t editorialize, treat your writing like it’s a court case and get the facts. Leave your emotions out.”

The attention to detail is vital. It will help for down the road when the situation is called into question.

“I write down facts that will be hard to remember later on,” Guest says. “When something happens I jot down the inning, the coaches and assistant coaches’ names and the important circumstances that will go into a full report.”

Report writing is tedious and isn’t glamorous, but we know the devil is in the details. If you want to avoid your own private hell get the reports done on time and in order. It will save you headaches down the road.

“Failing to complete the required reports puts a strain on administration,” Trevino says. “You can wind up putting people in a bind and ultimately, I believe you’ll be less likely to get a future assignment.”

I Regret … Not Taking Care of My Appearance

You probably didn’t get into this because you liked the show “America’s Next Top Model.” You love the game and you want to be close to it. You care about getting the rules right, staying in position and keeping the contest fair. You have no interest in walking down a runway, so why focus on appearance?

“People form an impression of you in the first seven to 10 seconds,” Wetzel says. “You can be the greatest official in the world, but if they have already made up their minds about you because of the way you look, you’re fighting an uphill battle. If I was a young guy trying to break in I’d do everything I could to look my best.”

Looking good is superficial, but much of your responsibility hinges on the intangibles of things like respect, leadership and confidence. A waist line with the Michelin stamp on it or having as much trouble navigating the field of play as Oprah would have doing a chin up isn’t going to help perceptions. A lean physique and a pressed uniform gives off the message you want conveyed. Keep it simple and give yourself an advantage that is easily in your control.

“Half the battle is won by looking the part,” said Wetzel. “If you’re at your best appearance-wise you’ll look like an official who knows what he or she is doing. Give yourself that advantage.”

I Regret … Not Taking the Extra Career Step

It is common for officials to feel like their careers have grown stagnant. If you’ve been stuck at the same level, doing the same games in the same conference for years and you want to break out, you have to ask yourself: Am I doing everything I can to advance?

You can build your career or you can choose to not take those steps because they cost money, involve travel or are inconvenient. Make the latter choice and you’ll live with the regret.

One of the simplest ways to open up doors is to attend camps and clinics.

“In today’s world it is the only way to advance yourself,” said Wetzel. “Attend as many camps and clinics as you can, even if you’re not getting assignments. Simply put, if people don’t know your name and who you are, you simply are not going to get games.”

Part of the formula is honing your game skills and staying on top of rule changes and approaches, but the networking and face-to-face contact is just as important as any education. That isn’t about manipulative do-anything-to-get ahead salesmanship. It is about making connections, developing camaraderie and letting the industry know who you are. In our world of Facebook, iPhones and Blackberries, sometimes it is easy to forget face-to-face meetings.

“It is important career-wise and it is important on a personal level,” Guest says. “Many of the camps have a real reunion feel to them and you get a chance to visit with people you see only a handful of times a year. It also translates into better performance because you develop relationships with people who you will wind up working with on the field.”

The fact of the matter is that people have to know who you are to assign you. Word of mouth isn’t efficient and it is only natural for those doing the assigning to go with officials they are familiar with. Instead of getting resentful of those who seem to have an “in” you can take the necessary steps to promote yourself.

“If you’re an excellent official and no one knows you — and I’m not talking about a good ol’ boy network — you’re not going to be noticed,” said Wetzel. “They have to be able to put a face to a name.”

You could make the next step in your career. It might mean joining a new association, paying the dues and traveling to camps and clinics across the country. Sure, it’ll take some cash out of your pocket, some time off from work and a few days away from the family, but the rewards are likely to mean a step up in your officiating career.

Failing to make the move to put yourself into that position will certainly be a tough regret to live with.

Tom Schreck is a writer and a professional boxing judge with the World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission from Albany, N.Y.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 7/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – 9 Easy Ways to Kill Your Career

There are a lot of long and promising careers available for officials of all levels. … And then there are career-killers. You don’t want to dig your own grave. Put down the shovel and know the actions to avoid.

9-Easy-Ways-to-Kill-Your-Career

By Tim Sloan

Call it what you want: The funnel, the meat grinder, the system, the process; whatever the metaphor, the concept is the same: If there’s something worth doing in life, chances are there are more people who want to do it than there are places for them all. Some will be discarded. Not everyone who goes in one end comes out the other.

The world of sports takes no prisoners in that regard. If you’re an athlete, the odds are far better that you’ll be a starter on your high school team, then the number three person in regional sales before you retire from your last pro athlete contract. When the talent is that good, and the opportunities so few, you don’t have to be that bad to fall by the wayside somewhere.

Arguably, officiating has become the same way. There might have been a time when hard work, spunk, knowing the game and a willingness to make the commitment was all it took to move up. If you were willing to sacrifice your home life for your avocation, there were more people willing to let you try. Nowadays, we seem waist-deep in fellow officials who always want more than they have and, in the true spirit of the rat race, will do whatever they can to get to “The Show.” But it isn’t always clear who will succeed: Some of the can’t-miss people we know wash out, while others less gifted slug it out and eventually wave to us from the tube every Sunday afternoon.

Referee development has become such a concerted process today. One of the consequences is that the people who identify and promote officials can point to many different ways that someone in the mix can do him- or herself in, despite their ability. Rising players derail themselves with bad choices, immaturity and burnout mostly. So do promising officials. They lose sight of the fact that assigners have plenty of people willing to work with them; they can do without people who think they have diplomatic immunity to the law of the jungle. Here is a list of nine such showstoppers to fine careers and some feedback from people who work with the up-and-comers about how it all really works.

1. Fall to Adequately Prepare

To many of us, that may sound like nothing more than not staying in game shape or keeping your uniform and appearance in order. There’s an element of truth in that and, particularly as we all get older, the people who realize that it’s easier to stay in shape than get in shape carry the day. Darrin Sealey, however, thinks poor preparation runs deeper than that at the higher levels. Sealey is the college baseball umpire coordinator for Mid-Atlantic Officials and is well known in NCAA circles; he worked the 2009 College World Series. His job is to identify and develop umpires along parts of the East Coast and has worked with some who were their own worst enemies. He says he sees some umpires with good potential become stranded at the lower levels for reasons having nothing to do with balls and strikes. He thinks some umpires fall into a “high school” mentality of squeezing games into their schedule and not devoting the level of preparation to them they require.

“A lot of people think pregames happen an hour before game time,” Sealey says. “Pregames start days, if not months, before that first game. If (an umpire) is showing up 30 minutes before game time because he’s not leaving work on time and driving through D.C. traffic and then he’s rushing to get his plate gear on, he’s going to have problems. His mind-set then is ‘everything’s sped up; everything’s sped up’ and everything does speed up in his mind.”

That makes his onfield work suffer because he hasn’t had the time to focus and get into the groove that’s required to perform at that level before the game starts.

J.B. Caldwell is an NCAA basketball official who also assigns and trains college officials in Florida and he agrees with Sealey. “One of the biggest issues I’ve had with people trying to sustain themselves at the college level has nothing to do with being on the floor but managing issues off the floor,” says Caldwell. “I lean on saying that someone that fundamentally is not well organized is going to have a tough time.”

In an eagerness to move up, some officials take on too much and don’t give themselves the hours in the day necessary to mentally prepare for their assignments. Succeeding at the upper levels requires a strategic approach to travel, study, exercise and rest that some handle better than others. Some try to work beyond their limitations and their work suffers.

2. Don’t Follow Through on your word

Gil Urban wears a number of hats around Michigan soccer through his work with U.S. Soccer and says moving up in the soccer world requires a couple of things. One is meeting the requirements of U.S. Soccer’s assessment process. The other is keeping up your image and the demand for your skills through all the games you have to work in the process. Urban calls it being unprofessional when officials start missing assignments they agreed to work.

“Someone who has a tendency to be late, or even worse than that, misses an assignment,” gets a rep he or she doesn’t need, Urban explains. “People will say, ‘He’s a great ref, but there’s a 10 percent chance he won’t show up,’ because he’s just not professional enough to manage his calendar, his time and his lead time.” Many assigners will take their chances with Jimmy Olsen if they’re worried Superman might have to flake at the last minute.

Being reliable extends to more than just making it to assignments, however. Nowadays, competent officials are called upon more to help evaluate other officials, attend meetings, show up for camps and whatever else their bosses deem desirable. It’s all part of the deal and it’s no longer acceptable to play elitist and tell your boss what you will or won’t do.

3. Trash Talk

Some would call that biting the hand that feeds you. Whatever the term, it’s never good to run down your boss to others. The way things work today, the grapevine will strangle anyone who thinks slagging others is an anonymous crime. When that kind of intrigue gets back to Sealey, he says it isn’t so much a question of his own sensitivity to criticism; more that it’s a symptom of a more serious disease.

“One in 10 guys is always complaining,” according to Sealey — about his assignments, his partners or even how they came up with the names for the planets. “Two or three out of 10 will always have some complaints, too.

“Zero of the hardcore complainers ever makes it because they burn themselves out,” he says. Officials who choose to take issue with others eventually end up having too many demons to fight and their reputation collapses. That happens because they’re guilty of the next item on the list.

4. Shirk Accountability

Caldwell says there are some officials an assigner can never do enough for and it manifests itself in a lack of self-effacement. “Not accepting responsibility or taking ownership,” for your success, he says, is no way to operate. “If you’ve got people in denial when you’re working with them, it’s hard to overcome their deficiencies.”

Face it, every official has work to do to get better and some officials either don’t see that or believe any admission of weakness will lower them in the eyes of the assigner. Sealey contends that just the opposite is true. “The first thing I’m looking for,” he says, “is an eagerness to learn.” And that, for him, implies the understanding that you have something to learn.

“I want the new guy to love the game of baseball,” Sealey adds. “If he doesn’t, he has some other motive for working for me and that scares me.”

5. Don’t Pay Attention to the Boss

A good way to learn is to consider that the assigner, assessor or crew chief has something worthwhile to say. Urban sees officials who will instead react by blowing off the credentials of a trained assessor when a less-than-glowing report is turned in. OK, maybe one afternoon can be a bit rough, but Urban believes you have to look at all your evaluations as a body of work, often presenting a recurring theme. Give the people who pass those judgments some credit and heed what they tell you.

There’s more to it than taking criticism well, though. Sealey has had people come to camps who say, “I’m just here to be evaluated, not to do the education sessions.”

“Ninety-nine percent of mechanics are the same way everywhere,” says Sealey. “Different coordinators have their own interpretation of the other one percent and, if you don’t educate yourself in your assigners’ expectations, you’ll have trouble.”

Maybe that’s the Me generation at work, rebelling against anything we didn’t think of first, but one can see how that causes problems. Working on any officiating crew is not an exercise for mavericks. If an official is glugging his or her own bathwater instead of working within the system, everyone suffers. That is generally followed by the boss having strange phone conversations when he or she should be in bed sleeping. If you establish a reputation for not serving the boss, it will be a short-lived one.

6. Be Fake

I remember Andy Dufresne offering some career advice to a fellow inmate in The Shawshank Redemption. That fellow had been in and out of jail since the age of 10. “Perhaps you should consider another line of work because you’re obviously not a very good crook,” Dufresne said. Caldwell has similar advice for officials who choose to be less than truthful with him or anyone else.

“People that give me fantasy reasons why they can’t attend meetings or manufacture excuses that simply are not true — I don’t go on missions to check these people out but the grapevine is healthy and alive,” says Caldwell. Most assigners can handle the truth and accept that life sometimes gets in the way of officiating. As long as it’s still an avocation for 99 percent of all officials, Caldwell would prefer people tell him what he might not want to hear than manufacture something they think he does want to hear. It’s called credibility.

Sealey is amazed at how many people will lie on their resumés when they apply for a job with him. They’ll say that they worked in a certain league or with certain partners when, charitably, their memory apparently fails them. “Especially with the Internet these days,” he says, “it’s so easy to go online and check people out.”

To continue the Dufresne analogy, Andy created an alter-ego as an imaginary financier to help launder money extorted by the evil warden. He eventually took on that identity to abscond to Mexico with millions. It helped that he really had been a bank president before going to prison; it made it so much easier to have other people take him seriously. Those would-be officials, who tell prospective bosses they’re something they’re not, will eventually be found out … probably the first time they step on the field. Typically, they pad their resumés to gain an edge, and that’s because they’re trying to …

7. Force the Close

“I’ve never had an umpire tell me he thought he was moving too quickly in his career,” assures Sealey. There might be some officials who prefer to take a little more time to pause and smell the flowers along the road of life, but most are willing to have it all thrown at them: Bring it on! In fact, some of them are so sure of their abilities that they tend to reject the process for being checked out by a potential new boss.

Caldwell says there are a lot of things he can do to appraise talent, including evaluating their athleticism, spending time with them, giving rules tests and the like. He can also find out a lot anecdotally about their relationships with their peers and things like aptitude, values and character … but until he sees them in a pressure-packed situation, he never knows for sure how they’re going to respond.

“And you really can’t manufacture that in a summer camp setting,” says Caldwell.

So, that is the rub. Officials have to accept that they won’t get to work for someone without having been personally observed by that person or someone he or she trusts. Sealey says, “I’ve had people who said, ‘I don’t try out for anybody,’” when asked for their schedule to check up on their application. All of them have been wished the best of luck in their future endeavors: they won’t work for him.

Relax. Networking among assigners is very common and that means the fear of “trying out” shouldn’t be that big of a deal: The assigner’s probably heard enough favorable things already about a candidate to warrant a look-see at all. The flip side of that is that sometimes officials just don’t work out in some leagues. Caldwell and Sealey say that’s not often the end of the road. When somebody inquires about the ability of an umpire who’s seeking greener pastures than his, Sealey has no hard feelings. He says he’ll give an honest assessment of the person’s strengths and weaknesses but never render a personal opinion in the process. Most assigners see an official’s success as a combination of ability and the right environment, so moving on from a bad situation isn’t necessarily the kiss of death.

8. Misidentify Where You should be in your Career

Urban sees officials who view progression as a sort of checklist to be ticked off, as tasks are completed. “You hear, I’ve now worked 122 games at this level, so I’m ready to be upgraded,’” he says. Perhaps because an experience factor is defined in the U.S. Soccer progression, some officials take it as the only thing they have to do — especially if they don’t like the tone of some of their assessments. In fact, a lot of sports have their share of officials who believe that “time served” should be the only true measurement of promotability. In that case, maybe the system is as often to blame for the official’s frustration. The human mind, in absence of the concrete, can conjure tremendous fantasy. Competitive officials need honest and actionable feedback and, if they don’t receive it, make things worse by guessing at their true weaknesses and fixing the wrong things.

Urban, Sealey and Caldwell all agree that the systems now exist to provide feedback from myriad sources — coaches, officials, assigners, observers — and present it coherently to the officials who need it. At the high school level, some states do a better job than others, however, due to the availability of resources: That’s a problem, and it may reflect itself in the retention rates of officials. At the college and professional levels, the case is usually one of ample feedback, sometimes brutally rendered. Those organizations have realized the value of, and invested in, developing officials thoroughly and keeping them for the long haul.

9. Don’t Self-Analyze

Ultimately it all comes down to the effort of the official to improve. You can reduce your chances of lung cancer by quitting smoking. Same with cirrhosis of the liver and quitting drinking. But you can’t avoid disappointment by quitting listening. No matter what you say on your resumé, what you think of the assigner and how bad the coaches are in your league, some officials still succeed, while others don’t. If you find that things aren’t going well for you as an official, ultimately it comes back to what you have decided to do about it, or not. If you aren’t prepared to be honest with yourself about what has to change and then commit to do it, all of those other issues are moot. And in some cases, it really is the end of the road; you’ve reached your level of incompetence: Get used to it.

When officials have conflict and trouble in their careers, the experts say that it often stems from asking the wrong question: “What’s in it for me?” Conversely, the great officials continue to persevere and to learn and they never think it’s about them. Sealey remembers finding that epiphany when he went to Omaha in 2009 and looked around at all the great umpires he worked with. To him, flourishing as an official is now simple: “Focus more on who you’re with and what you’re doing than where you’re at and who’s playing,” Sealey says.

Never be bigger than the game.

Tim Sloan, Bettendorf, Iowa, officiates high school football, basketball and volleyball. He is a former college football and soccer official.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 9/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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